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USL's Week Ahead - Western Conference Showdowns Take Center Stage

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 08/07/18, 11:00AM EDT

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Top-five matchups see Monarchs host 1868 FC, Phoenix square off with Orange County in busy slate of contests


Second-place Orange County SC and third-place Phoenix Rising FC meet for the third and final time this regular season on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy Michael Rincon / Phoenix Rising FC

TAMPA, Fla. – Matchups featuring four of the top five teams in the USL’s Western Conference take the main spotlight in Week 22 of the 2018 regular season, with numerous other compelling contests also on the schedule over the next six days. Wednesday night’s four-game slate concludes with a clash between Western Conference-leader Real Monarchs SLC and fifth-place Reno 1868 FC, which took victory when the sides first met this season at Greater Nevada Field. Wednesday night also features the USL Game of the Week, as the Tampa Bay Rowdies host the Charleston Battery and the final Black Gold Derby of the regular season between OKC Energy FC and Tulsa Roughnecks FC. Friday night brings a pair of big Eastern Conference contests as the New York Red Bulls II host Louisville City FC and Nashville SC welcomes Ottawa Fury FC, while Saturday sees the spotlight return to the West, as third-place Phoenix Rising FC plays host to second-place Orange County SC in the spotlight game of a nine-game slate of action.

All 561 regular-season games, the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs and the 2018 USL Cup can be accessed via USLSoccer.com’s Match Center.

11 THINGS TO KNOW

In the USL’s 11 Things to Know, Nicholas Murray looks at the past weekend’s action in the Eastern Conference that saw a pair of potential playoff matchups provide a glimpse at what might be ahead in October and impressive displays in the Western Conference by Sacramento Republic FC, San Antonio FC and Phoenix Rising FC, as all three bolstered their position in the playoff positions.

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First-place Real Monarchs SLC squares off with fifth-place Reno 1868 FC on Wednesday night in one of the week's big matchups. | Photo courtesy David Calvert / Reno 1868 FC

Tuesday, Aug. 7
ATL UTD 2 vs. Ottawa Fury FC

Fifth Third Bank Stadium, Kennesaw, Georgia | 6 p.m. ET
ATL UTD 2 (3-11-6, 15pts) and Ottawa Fury FC (9-9-3, 30pts) will resume their contest that was postponed in the 44th minute on June 17 at Fifth Third Bank Stadium, with Fury FC looking to add to its positive recent run of form as it kicks off a week on the road. The game – which was originally called due to lightning and heavy rain – will resume in the 44th minute with the game tied 1-1. Both teams will be permitted to make a maximum of six changes to their lineup prior to the resumption of the contest, while also retaining three substitutions. Ottawa is coming off a 2-0 victory last Friday night against the Tampa Bay Rowdies that moved it into the top eight in the Eastern Conference and has won three of its last four outings overall. Atlanta, meanwhile, has lost two in a row after a 4-1 defeat to Bethlehem Steel FC on July 29 in its most recent outing.

Wednesday, Aug. 8
Charlotte Independence vs. Bethlehem Steel FC

Sportsplex at Matthews, Matthews, North Carolina | 7 p.m. ET
The Charlotte Independence (7-8-7, 28pts) and Bethlehem Steel FC (8-9-6, 30pts) square off in a crucial game for both in their pursuit of a place in the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs. Steel FC enters the game off back-to-back victories, having claimed a 3-0 victory on the road against the Richmond Kickers this past Saturday to move into ninth place in the Eastern standings, and the visitors will be hoping to replicate their 4-1 victory against Charlotte when the sides met on June 30 at Goodman Stadium to maintain their upward surge. The Independence, meanwhile, are looking to break a three-game winless streak that saw the side play to a 1-1 draw with Penn FC in their last outing.

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Charleston Battery
Al Lang Stadium, St. Petersburg, Florida |7:30 p.m. ET (ESPNews)
The Charleston Battery (10-3-9, 39pts) will look to extend their nine-game undefeated streak when they visit the Tampa Bay Rowdies (7-9-5, 26pts) in the USL Game of the Week on ESPNews. The Battery played to a 0-0 draw this past Saturday against Southern Derby rival North Carolina FC and enter the week sitting comfortably in third place in the Eastern Conference, having recorded shutouts in each of the past three games. The visitors should get a major test from Tampa Bay, however, which is in serious need of a victory after a 2-0 defeat to Ottawa Fury FC last Friday night at TD Place dropped the Rowdies four points out of the playoff positions. With three of their next four games coming on home turf, the Rowdies need to start putting victories together if the side is to make a second consecutive trip to the USL Cup Playoffs.

Tulsa Roughnecks FC vs. OKC Energy FC
ONEOK Field, Tulsa, Oklahoma | 8:30 p.m. ET
The final Black Gold Derby of the 2018 regular season sees OKC Energy FC (6-12-5, 23pts) in dire need of a victory against Tulsa Roughnecks FC (1-9-10, 13pts) as it heads to ONEOK Field. Energy FC sits 10 points out of the playoff places in the Western Conference after a 2-0 defeat to Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC this past Saturday night. With only 11 games to go in the regular season, every game is now a must-win for Head Coach Steve Cooke’s side, as it looks to avoid missing the postseason for the first time since its inaugural season in 2014. For the Roughnecks, there’s pride to play for as the side looks to move off the bottom of the Western Conference standings, and there would certainly be some satisfaction in taking a victory against the club’s in-state rival that would put the postseason even further out of reach.

Real Monarchs SLC vs. Reno 1868 FC
Zions Bank Stadium, Herriman, Utah | 10 p.m. ET
Western Conference-leader Real Monarchs SLC (14-5-2, 44pts) will try to extend its undefeated record at Zions Bank Stadium and add to its eight-game home winning streak when it hosts fifth-place Reno 1868 FC (10-4-7, 37pts), which will be aiming to close the gap at the top with a win. 1868 FC took a 3-0 victory when the teams previously met this season at Greater Nevada Field on July 3, but the Monarchs have been a stern test for every side that has visited its new home this season, having taken a 4-1 victory against fellow playoff contender Phoenix Rising FC in its last outing on July 28. Real is tied for the league-lead with nine home wins this season and is the lone side yet to have lost on its home turf.

Thursday, Aug. 9
LA Galaxy II vs. Fresno FC

StubHub Center Track and Field Stadium, Carson, California | 10:30 p.m. ET
Fresno FC (7-8-9, 30pts) faces what looks like a must-win contest against the LA Galaxy II (5-12-5, 20pts), as it makes the trip to Southern California looking to rebound from its last outing. The Foxes suffered a 1-0 defeat to Highway 99 Derby rival Sacramento Republic FC this past Saturday to snap a five-game undefeated streak and now sit in 10th place in the Western Conference, three points back of both the seventh-place Portland Timbers 2 and eighth-place Swope Park Rangers. The contest is the second meeting between the teams this season, with the Galaxy II having claimed a 1-1 draw when they visited Chukchansi Park on March 24, and Los Dos will be hoping a return home will help the side snap a four-game winless streak after a 2-1 defeat to San Antonio FC this past Saturday night.

Friday, Aug. 10
New York Red Bulls II vs. Louisville City FC

MSU Soccer Park, Montclair, New Jersey | 7 p.m. ET
The New York Red Bulls II (9-6-8, 32pts) play host to Louisville City FC (10-4-6, 36pts) in what would currently be a preview of an Eastern Conference Quarterfinals matchup in the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs at the start of the week’s action. The teams met earlier this season at Slugger Field in a contest that was one of the most entertaining games of 2018 so far, as New York rallied from a two-goal halftime deficit to take the lead only for Louisville to find a late equalizer in a 3-3 draw. The Red Bulls II have been in sparkling form at home recently, with four consecutive victories at MSU Soccer Park after taking a 2-1 victory last Friday night against Penn FC that further bolstered the 2016 USL Cup champions’ bid to make a fourth successive trip to the postseason. Louisville has picked up seven points from its last three outings, however, and will be looking to close the gap on FC Cincinnati at the top of the conference standings.

Nashville SC vs. Ottawa Fury FC
First Tennessee Park, Nashville, Tennessee | 8:30 p.m. ET
Nashville SC (8-6-7, 31pts) welcomes Ottawa Fury FC for the second meeting between the clubs this season in one of the key matchups in the race for the USL Cup Playoffs this weekend in the Eastern Conference. Fury FC will make the trip to Tennessee after the completion of its contest with ATL UTD 2 on Tuesday night which could see the visitors move ahead of their hosts ahead of the Friday-night clash. Nashville will look to get back in the win column for the first time since July 25 after an impressive 1-1 draw on the road against FC Cincinnati this past Saturday and will be hoping to reverse a 2-0 defeat it suffered to Fury FC when the sides met at TD Place on July 21, when Ottawa scored twice in stoppage time to take a big three points at home.

Saturday, Aug. 11
Charleston Battery vs. ATL UTD 2

MUSC Health Stadium, Charleston, South Carolina | 7 p.m. ET
The Charleston Battery return home after a midweek trip to Florida to play host to ATL UTD 2 in the second meeting between the clubs this season, with the Battery looking to pick up where they left off on home turf prior to their two-game road trip after winning their last three home outings. Charleston also took a 4-0 victory when the teams first met this season, as Gordon Wild – on loan to the Battery from Atlanta United FC – scored a pair of goals to earn a result that began the Battery’s midseason surge up the Eastern Conference standings.

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. North Carolina FC
Al Lang Stadium, St. Petersburg, Florida | 7:30 p.m. ET
The Tampa Bay Rowdies return to action for a second home game in Week 22, as they host fellow playoff hopeful North Carolina FC (7-8-6, 27pts). NCFC is on a five-game undefeated streak that continued with a 0-0 draw against the Charleston Battery this weekend and has taking seven points from its last three games, all of which came on home turf. Translating that form, as the side hits the road, is going to be key for North Carolina as it visits Tampa Bay, with NCFC only 2-4-3 away from home this season. With the Rowdies having claimed a 3-1 victory when the sides first met on the opening weekend of the season, there will also be a little bit of revenge on the visitors’ minds as they head to Al Lang Stadium.

OKC Energy FC vs. Real Monarchs SLC
Taft Stadium, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma | 8:30 p.m. ET
OKC Energy FC and Real Monarchs SLC return to action for the second time this week, as the teams clash for the first time this season. The teams split the regular-season series a year ago, with Energy FC taking victory on home turf behind a pair of goals by Alex Dixon, and the hosts will need a similar result this time around to try and keep their playoff hopes alive.

Saint Louis FC vs. Las Vegas Lights FC
Toyota Stadium – Saint Louis, Fenton, Missouri | 8:30 p.m. ET
Saint Louis FC (7-6-8, 29pts) and Las Vegas Lights FC (7-9-5, 26pts) square off in a must-win game for both sides, as they look to fight their way into the top eight in the Western Conference standings. Saint Louis has taken back-to-back victories over the past two weeks, defeating Reno 1868 FC and Seattle Sounders FC 2 to remain in playoff contention. Lights FC is also coming off a win, having defeated Rio Grande Valley FC 1-0 this past Saturday at Cashman Field, but Las Vegas will have to throw off some serious struggles on the road that have seen the side go 2-7-2 overall away from home and lose its last three road contests going into Saturday’s contest.

Swope Park Rangers vs. Portland Timbers 2
Children’s Mercy Park, Kansas City, Kansas | 8:30 p.m. ET
The Swope Park Rangers (9-8-6, 33pts) and Portland Timbers 2 (10-10-3, 33pts) enter the week level on points in the final two playoff positions in the Western Conference, with both looking for a turnaround in form to fend off the chasing pack in the race for the playoffs. The Rangers suffered a 2-1 defeat to Orange County SC this past Saturday that extended the club’s winless streak to six games, while T2 fell 4-1 to Phoenix Rising FC this past Sunday at Providence Park to remain precariously placed in the conference standings. A win for either side would be a major boost to their respective playoff hopes, with Portland hoping to add to its 2-1 victory when the sides met on July 14 in their previous meeting this season.

Tulsa Roughnecks FC vs. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
ONEOK Field, Tulsa, Oklahoma | 8:30 p.m. ET
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (9-12-4, 31pts) will try to build on a morale-boosting victory last time out, as it visits a Tulsa Roughnecks FC side that returns to action after squaring off with Black Gold Derby rival OKC Energy FC in midweek action. The Switchbacks defeated Energy FC 2-0 this past Saturday night, as Tobenna Uzo had a goal and an assist after coming on as a second-half substitute for the hosts at Weidner Field, but with only nine games remaining in its regular season schedule and the side still in ninth place in the Western Conference going into this week’s action, Colorado Springs needs to keep picking up wins to have a chance at a return to the USL Cup Playoffs in October.

Seattle Sounders FC 2 vs. San Antonio FC
Cheney Stadium, Tacoma, Washington| 10 p.m. ET
In search of its fifth consecutive victory, San Antonio FC (9-5-7, 34pts) can match its longest winning streak in club history when it visits Seattle Sounders FC 2 (4-14-2, 14pts). SAFC continued its strong recent form with a 2-1 victory against the LA Galaxy II this past Saturday, as Darnell King and Ever Guzman both found the net, with the win moving the side into sixth place in the Western Conference standings. S2, meanwhile, continued to struggle, as it fell 2-0 to Saint Louis FC this past Saturday to remain winless on the road this season, but the young side has had better moments at home with a 4-6-0 record at Cheney Stadium this season.

Phoenix Rising FC vs. Orange County SC
Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex, Phoenix, Arizona | 10:30 p.m. ET
Two of the top three teams in the Western Conference meet when Phoenix Rising FC (12-5-5, 41pts) plays host to Orange County SC (12-6-5, 41pts) for the third and final meeting between the clubs this season. Phoenix has gone 1-0-1 in the two previous encounters, including a 1-0 victory when the sides last met thanks to a goal by Chris Cortez. The veteran forward was on target again this past Sunday, as he notched two goals and an assist in Rising FC’s 4-1 victory against the Portland Timbers 2 that allowed Phoenix to keep pace with Orange County, which had taken a 2-1 victory against the Swope Park Rangers on Saturday night to extend its undefeated streak to five games.

Sacramento Republic FC vs. Rio Grande Valley FC
Papa Murphy’s Park, Sacramento, California | 11 p.m. ET
Sacramento Republic FC (11-5-7, 40pts) will look to build on a victory that extended the clubs undefeated streak to five games when it plays host to Rio Grande Valley FC (3-7-11). Republic FC got a late winner by Villyan Bijev to take a 1-0 win against Highway 99 Derby rival Fresno FC in its last outing, with the win also moving Sacramento into the top four in the Western Conference standings. Republic FC had to rally late to earn a point in its first meeting with the Toros this season, however, and could get a tougher test than might be expected from a 15th-place side that had won two of its last three before a tough 1-0 defeat to Las Vegas Lights FC this past Saturday that saw RGVFC outshoot its hosts 7-2 in shots on target only to come up blank on the scoreboard.

Sunday, Aug. 12
Bethlehem Steel FC vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

Goodman Stadium, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania | 5 p.m. ET
The Pennsylvania rivals square off with Bethlehem Steel FC returning home after its midweek clash with the Charlotte Independence hoping to take points from the second-place Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (11-3-7, 40pts). The Hounds enter on a two-game winning streak after recording shutout victories against both the Richmond Kickers and Toronto FC II in Week 21, as Neco Brett scored three goals across the two games. Pittsburgh goalkeeper Dan Lynd now has 11 shutouts on the season, three away from the USL single-season record.

FC Cincinnati vs. Penn FC
Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio | 6 p.m. ET
FC Cincinnati (13-3-6, 45pts) will try to add to its 11-game undefeated streak when it plays host to Penn FC (6-7-8, 26pts), which enters on a four-game winless streak that has severely dented the club’s postseason hopes. Cincinnati played to a 1-1 draw this past Saturday against Nashville SC despite being outshot by its visitors 19-4, with Danni König’s 10th goal of the season setting a club record as the fastest in FCC history after just 28 seconds. FCC will be hoping to get back on a winning track against Penn, which fell 2-1 to the New York Red Bulls II this past Saturday and has only taken one point from its last four outings to drop to 13th place in the Eastern Conference standings.

Toronto FC II vs. Richmond Kickers
BMO Field, Toronto, Ontario | 7:30 p.m. ET
Toronto FC II (1-16-3, 6pts) and the Richmond Kickers (5-13-3, 18pts) will both look for a boost in morale as they square off for the second time this season. The Kickers took a 2-1 victory when the sides met at City Stadium on April 25, as Yudai Imura found the scoresheet before an own goal by Brandon Onkony proved the winner in the second half after Toronto had taken the lead through Aidan Daniels. Both teams are coming off tough defeats this past weekend, with the Kickers suffering a 3-0 setback to Bethlehem Steel FC and Toronto a 1-0 loss to Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC that saw the side almost grab a draw in stoppage time.

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